E-mail Story   Print Story
  Comments (1) Total Saturday Apr. 19, 2014
Blowin’ in the Wind
Out Of Bounds
A friend and I drove over Marias Pass the other day. We were headed east to find birds.

It was a late start, but there wasn’t reason to hurry. The overnight temperature in the Flathead had dipped close to the single digits. We figured with the cold the birds wouldn’t be on the move until midmorning.

As we neared the top of the pass the wind began to blow. When we cleared the mountains for the descent into Browning, the roadside grass was bent sideways in the wind. Added to the bitter cold, things didn’t look promising.

We were in for a surprise, though the onboard thermometer in the “Science Guy’s” pickup spoiled it. As we drove south out of Browning we watched as the temperature rose from the teens up to the 40s. The surprise would have been if we hadn’t had a thermometer and we’d stepped out of the truck expecting that cold of the west, and not the balmy warmth of a first-class Chinook.

Chinook winds form when relatively warm air tops the Rocky Mountains and drops down onto the Great Plains. The dry air heats as much as 5.5 degrees for each 1,000 feet as it descends the leeward side of the mountains. The result can be dramatic swings in weather. The greatest temperature increase due to a Chinook was recorded in Loma in 1972, when the temperature rose from negative 48 degrees to 48 above in one 24-hour period.

I suspect 48 degrees never felt as good as it did that day in Loma.

A week before in Wyoming we had a slightly less dramatic change, only the other way. It was close to 50 degrees when I walked to work. Then I saw through the windows that the wind began to pick up. When I stepped outside for lunch things were noticeably colder; 35 degrees colder to be exact. By the time lunch was over snow was “falling” sideways, and enough of the white stuff defied the wind to gather 4 inches deep. “Coach,” a colleague who grew up in Ohio and has developed a strange obsession with Montana six-man football, took one look at that nasty sideways wind and said, “That’s one hell of an Alberta Clipper out there.”

The Clipper, it seems, is related to the Chinook. The warm winds of the Chinook eventually mix with colder air out on the plains, then slam into the Great Lakes. There the Clipper can unleash lake-effect snow on the leeward sides of the water. Ohio is on the wrong side of that equation.

The same dynamic appeared to be at play when the Chinook warmed the prairie near Choteau. While we were hastily removing layers of clothing to avoid heat stroke while hunting, the Coach was back on the plains of Wyoming, posting on Facebook that morning’s low of 1 degree.

When you drive from 15 degrees to 50 in a matter of hours it’s a good day no matter how many birds you kill. Even better, once we arrived the prairie winds laid down and we had a good walk at the base of the East Front. We got to watch some fine dog work from the Science Guy’s English setter, and I killed a pheasant that I turned into coq au vin.

I had two other opportunities, and if I was a halfway decent shot I might have filled a limit. One of these days I’m going to put in the time and polish my shooting skills so that they may someday be worthy of the fine dog work I’ve benefitted from over the years.

For now I got the accustomed backward glance from the dog, betraying not so much disgust, but rather what I assume must be the standard canine attitude toward my substandard shooting skills. I suspect it goes something like this: “It’s a good thing he feeds me and regularly scratches behind my ears, because he’s not good for much else.”

On a glorious day such as this in the shadow of the Crown of the Continent, bathed in the warmth of the Chinook, that will have to be enough.
On 12-04-13, mooseberryinn commented....
In the 1980’s (?) I was driving across Malmstrom AFB, went from 16 below to plus 45 in the space of about 3 miles.  Quite suddenly my jeep Wrangler was covered (even the wheels) in 3-4” of frost.  I stopped due to lack of visibility, and…
Kellyn Brown
Kellyn Brown12h
"If we made decisions on permits this way in MT, our economy would grind to a halt" @GovernorBullock on #KeystoneXL delay
Dillon Tabish
Dillon Tabish10h
Montana leaders sound off on Keystone XL delay http://t.co/H1Z6oRtfis #mtnews #mtpol
Molly Priddy
Molly Priddy10h
@natashavc @TaraAriano @allyzay Oh no, I've been thinking it's a room for all your types of mustards. Recalibrating my ideas now.
Tristan Scott
Tristan Scott4h
@tristanscott *Billie Joe
Flathead Beacon
FB Headlines10h
Baucus Casts Wide Shadow Over Montana Senate Race http://t.co/KATSG942LL